Laurel emergency responder honor guard at the city's 9/11 memorial.
Laurel emergency responder honor guard at the city's 9/11 memorial. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

After an airplane struck the south tower of the World Trade Center 16 years ago, a group of injured people huddled together on an upper floor as the fire spread and smoke filled the air.

The group then heard the voice of a man who had found a stairwell and led them to safety.


"He called for fire extinguishers to clear the smoke, he tended to the wounded, he led the survivors down to safety, even carrying a woman on his back," said Pastor James LeBlanc of the Free To Worship Church in Laurel. "Then he went back up and looked for some more survivors and led them back down. … And that's when the tower fell."

LeBlanc was recounting the heroics of Welles Crowther, an equities trader who is credited with saving at least 10 people on Sept. 11, 2001. His efforts are memorialized in the documentary "Man in Red Bandana," which opened this weekend.

"If we're honest today, how many of us would have just saved ourselves?" LeBlanc said. "What he did, he did out of love."

LeBlanc was one of several to speak at a memorial service on Sunday at the Laurel Municipal Center Memorial Garden, where a monument to those killed in the attacks was dedicated a year ago. The monument has a piece of steel from the north tower of the World Trade Center on top of its base.

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The event featured Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and members of the City Council, with representatives from First United Methodist Church of Laurel, Oseh Shalom Synagogue, the Islamic Community Center of Laurel, St. Mark's United Methodist Church and American Legion Post 60.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger airplanes, sending two into the World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon. A fourth plane, believed to have been headed for the Capitol or the White House in Washington, crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pa., after its passengers fought with the hijackers.

More than 60 people who lived in Maryland or had ties to the state died in the attacks. Many of them died at the Pentagon.

Martin Flemion III, the city administrator for Laurel, said he wanted to hold the memorial event annually. He said a couple of his high school classmates were killed in the attacks.

"9/11 is a very valuable lesson to us," Flemion said. "The people that lost their lives, we need to make sure that the loss of their lives was meaningful."

The Laurel event drew about three dozen people. Speakers said they wanted to encourage unity and banish what they said was a growing divisiveness in the country. Representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths led prayers.

Cantor Charles Bernhardt of Oseh Shalom played guitar and sang a song about peace and unity.

"What happened in 2001 was just a horrible, horrible thing, and we need to repair the things in the world that might lead someone to do something so horrible," he said. "We need to work together in that, because that's where our solution lies."

Pastor Demetria Williams of the City of Faith Christian Center sang during the ceremony. She said the attacks touched everyone in the country.

"We were drastically affected as a nation and it actually hit homes across the country," she said. "We all know someone who knows someone that was affected by the terrorism and the threat against our people and our country. It lets us know that we're never too safe but we're to cherish every moment that we're here, celebrate our loved ones, hold them close, be prepared, be vigilant of our surroundings, and at all costs, protect ourselves."


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